Those of us who are old enough to remember when an unknown virus took root in the United States in the 1980s and spread at a rate so alarming that few believed that it could be quelled know why the annual acknowledgment of World AIDS Day is so important. Not only does this day of awareness empower everyone in every corner of the globe to commemorate those we have lost, but it also refocuses our collective attention on methods of care and prevention.
More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV/AIDS, and by race, African Americans face the most severe burden of this disease. While representing only 14 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans account for 44 percent of people living with HIV. Even more troubling is the fact that 1 in 32 Black women and 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS within their lifetime.
Thirty years ago, fear and stigma permeated communities of color both ill-prepared and ill-equipped to confront the ravages of this disease. Today we know better. The NAACP has worked tirelessly to replace the stereotypes and confusion usually affiliated with HIV/AIDS with compassion and education.
We are also training others to do the same.
We are generating networks of knowledge and action around HIV as a social justice issue, stopping the social injustices that have led to the unequal impact of HIV in Black America.
In fact, three years ago, the NAACP, in partnership with Gilead Sciences, Inc., launched The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative, a program designed to empower faith leaders, religious denominations, and seminaries across the country.
In 2013, the NAACP and Gilead Sciences, Inc., made a joint Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment to Action to expand the pilot initiative 30 cities. The NAACP has health advocates on the ground in areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Oakland, Baltimore, Memphis, and New Orleans teaching faith leaders and congregations to see HIV/AIDS as a social justice issue.
Over the next four years, the initiative aims to engage nearly 3,000 faith leaders to reach approximately 1.125 million people in the Black community with messages about HIV.
We are working to ensure that communities of color have access to the tools, resources, support, and information they need to survive. We are mobilizing communities of color to share their stories and call for more targeted resources and funding to fend off this disease.
To date, we have secured formal agreements from three of nine historically Black church denominations to include HIV as a social justice issue in church activities, and have cultivated agreements to integrate HIV-related coursework into required curricula at predominantly African-American theological seminaries.
On this day and every day, we at the NAACP are focused on infusing social justice within public health and disease prevention. HIV/AIDS is a fight that we cannot afford to lose. Too much is at stake. Silence is not an option. Our collective message of social justice, HIV prevention, and frequent testing must ring throughout our homes and schools and in our barbershops, hair salons and churches. We are calling on our members, local leadership, and community members to commemorate this national day of awareness by providing preventative education and testing.
Will you join the fight?
For more information on how to participate and get involved, visit TheBlackChurchandHIV.org.